When it comes to eating to gain muscle there are several guidelines you can follow. It essentially comes down to two main methods of eating, the clean bulk and the dirty bulk. Some like to refer to a semi-clean bulk which I will touch on later.
With the dirty bulk, it’s pretty simple, eat anything not fast enough to get away from you. The problem with dirty bulking is you will build muscle, but you also risk packing on a good amount of fat. Not to mention when it comes time to lose the excess fat you’re more likely to fail.
If you don’t establish healthy eating habits early, it will be next to impossible when you try to lose the weight. That’s why I recommend doing a clean or semi-clean bulk as opposed to just “winging it.”
Not to mention, dirty bulking can lead to crash dieting which is unhealthy and ineffective.
Clean bulking is the much safer and healthier option. That being said, it can get overwhelming. If all of this information gets overwhelming I offer online coaching to help you achieve your goals. Have a look at my Online Coaching Page for more information. I offer different packages to suit your needs and budget.
Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates
Calories come from protein, fats, and carbs. Protein and carbs contain roughly four calories per gram and fat contains roughly nine.
To clean bulk I’m not saying you need to count calories, but you do need to understand portions. Precision Nutrition does a great job breaking down the best way to measure portions. Just take a look at your hand.
1 palm = one serving of protein 100-125 calories
1 fist= one serving of vegetables 30-60 calories
1 fist= one serving of carbs (including fruit) 100-125 calories
1 thumb= one serving of fat 100-125 calories
All calorie measurements are rough estimates to help us determine how many portions. This gives you a tool you can take with you anywhere to measure portions. We’ll touch more on this later. First we need to discuss good sources for each.
Protein is the most important aspects to building muscle. Lean proteins should be the aim. You can eat fattier cuts just make sure you don’t overdo it. Fattier meats contain higher amounts of saturated fat. Too much of this fat can lead to heart disease.
Chicken and turkey are great lean sources of protein. Don’t worry about skipping the skin and dark meat. Both contain important minerals and don’t add too much fat. Plus it justs taste good.
Look for leaner cuts like eye of round, sirloin, top round, bottom round, and top sirloin.
Skip the yolks. Too much cholesterol is not good for you. Hard boiled is the easiest way to transport and eat. Just make sure you remove the yolk.
Any commercially available fish is a good source of lean protein. You can also get good sources from shellfish as well.
If available and you’re an adventurous eater you can get protein from other meat sources as well. Some of which include, alligator, crocodile, bear, bison, caribou, elk, emu, frog legs, goose, kangaroo, ostrich, game bird, rattlesnake, reindeer, squirrel, turtle, venison, wild boar, and wild turkey.
Milk is another source of protein. Look for the lower fat variety for more control over the amount of calories from fat.
Complete proteins should be the aim when choosing protein sources. The best complete protein source from a plant is soy. While there is some debate about whether it’s good for you or not, it’s the best pure complete source for vegans.
You can also combine almost any number of whole grains with a legume and it will be a complete protein. It is possible but requires a little more effort when trying to get the correct ratios of carbs and fats.
Go for fruit and whole grain carbohydrate sources. The less refined the better the source. Highly refined sources digest quicker and contain less fiber. This mean a bigger spike in blood sugar levels which results in more storage of fat.
Unprocessed whole wheat bread such as Ezekiel bread is a good grain source. Other sources include steel cut oats, amaranth, quinoa, barley, and wild rice.
Potatoes are very starchy and digest quickly. It’s best to avoid them and go for sweet potatoes which contain more fiber. A word of caution, sweet potatoes are calories dense, use discretion.
This one’s easy, avoid juices and go for whole fruits.
There are three major types of fats, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. A combination of the three is likely the best approach. Poly and monounsaturated are referred to as healthy fats. While saturated fat is typically considered unhealthy, but some consumption is unavoidible, and generally considered okay.
The best sources of saturated fats are tropical oils such as coconut, palm, and cacao. For monounsaturated fats go for olive oil, avocados, peanuts, and groundnuts. For polyunsaturated fat sources try tree nuts, flax, fish oil, and seed oils.
Avoid overly processed fats designed for a long shelf life such as vegetable, corn, and soy bean oil.
There are varying degrees of semi-clean bulking. For the most part, when it comes to doing a semi-clean bulk you should focus your diet around the foods listed above. Most semi-clean bulkers don’t concern themselves too much with portion control.
Some people will even go a little more dirty and eat some foods outside of these. For example, they may eat more refined carbs and higher fat meats.
Semi-clean bulking is far better than dirty bulking. You will pack on less fat and more muscle, but a true clean bulk will give you complete control. To do a true clean bulk, you need to focus on portion control and the ratio of proteins to carbs to fats. By paying attention to portions and ratios you can make minor adjustments as you go. It requires more effort but will pay off in the long run.
Portion control and ratios
How do we determine the right amounts? The answer to that depends upon you. There are many variables such as height, body weight, age, activity level and body type.
Determining body type allows you to pick the best ratio for you. To do this you need to learn a little bit about somatotypes.
When it comes to genetics they can be your best friend or your worst enemy. There’s no denying what your momma gave you. To help us determine proper ratios we need to determine what your genetics dictate is best for your body type. We all, for the most part, can fit into one body type. We’re either an ecto, endo, or mesomorph. Unfortunatly, the majority of people do not fit perfectly into one type. Additionally, our environmental factors such as diet and activity level can have an effect on what we perceive we are.
Here is a breakdown of the three somatotypes:
Ectomorph: The stereotypical “hard gainer.” Long, lean, and skinny. These guys have a hard time gaining weight and muscle. They are typically better at performing endurance events. They will benefit most from a diet high in carbohydrates low in fat. The best ratio is 2 parts carbs to 1 part fat and protein.
Mesomorph: These are the types with the more athletic bodies. They usually have higher amounts of testosterone and growth hormones. Packing on lean muscle is usually easier for them. They benefit from a more balanced diet of fats, proteins, and carbs. The best ratio for mesomorphs would be a balance of 1:1:1 protein, fats, and carbs.
Endomorph: These are the guys you would typically refer to as “bigger.” They have a hard time losing weight and usually perform better at activities requiring strength. Excess calorie consumption is quickly stored as fat. As crazy as it may sound they will benefit from higher amounts of fat and lower carbs. Endomorphs are best when they stick to a diet of 4 parts fat to 3 parts protein to 2 parts carbs.
You are more than likely some combination of at least two types. By determining which category you fall into you can figure out what ratios will work best for you.
Check out this test from bodybuilding.com to give you an idea about your body type.
Determining calories and portions
When someone tells me I already eat a lot and I still can’t gain weight. I reply by saying there’s a big difference between eating a lot and eating enough.
Someone not used to eating enough will say 3,000 calories a day is a lot of food. What they don’t realize is it still may not be enough. Sometimes they are upwards of 1,000 calories short!
Since there is no way to account for your exact metabolic rate without the aid of some expensive equipment. We will go off general assumptions and use it as a starting point.
You can use this calorie counter to help determine a good starting point.
Processing the info
Once you’re armed with this information you can then begin determining what a normal meal should look like. I will use myself as an example. I plugged my information in the calorie calculator here’s what I get.
In the example above I need to consume about 3,300 calories to maintain my current body weight. If I wanted to add about two pounds a week I would need to consume about 4,300 calories a day. You can adjust activity levels as well to modify how many calories are required to gain or lose weight.
Now it’s time to determine my Somatotype. Using the quick test from bodybuilding.com I can determine my somatotype. Here’s what I get:
I’m half mesomorph with a little ectomorph and a minimal amount of endomorph. From my experience with exercise and weight gain, I can agree with this assumption.
Given this information, I would do best with a diet that is close to 40% carbs, 40% protein, and 20% fat. Again this is only a starting point! As I go through the bulking process I need to play with these numbers to determine what is best.
Using the information from above we can then determine portions. Since we aren’t going to concern too much about calories we need to focus more on the portions. It’s also important to do our best to get a mix of the calorie sources from the list above.
Here’s the breakdown for one meal:
2 palms of meat = roughly 200-250 calories
2 fists of carbs = roughly 200-250 calories
2 fists of veggies = Depending on variety 60-120 calories
1 thumb of fats = roughly 100-125 calories
Total meal calories count: 560-745 calories
That means I will need to eat 6-8 meals like this every day to reach 4,300 calories. Since I don’t like feeling like I’m about to pop after a meal I don’t necessarily double my meals, but I do make them bigger.
A typical meal would be:
3 palms of meat
3 fists of carbs
3 fists of veggies
2 thumbs of fat
Then I would opt for low-fat snacks between meals such as bananas, boiled egg whites, and carrots. Again, this is all about adjusting as you go to suit your goals and how your body reacts. This could be applied for when you want to lose weight as well just readjust the portions.
Sounds like a lot of food doesn’t it? That’s because it is. To eat this much food and the right portions requires planning and fine tuning. After awhile it will become second nature and it will become much easier to prep and eat meals. You just have to stick with it!
Just remember we aren’t counting calories just portions. strive to get those portions everyday and you can’t fail.
Track your progress
To really understand how it’s working you should track your progress. Measure weight and if possible, body fat percentage. You should also record your diet three days a week, twice during the week and once on the weekend. At the end of the month recheck your progress. With these numbers, you can determine how many pounds of fat to muscle you are gaining.
This is invaluable information to when it comes to making adjustments.
Tips for success
If you aren’t in it to win it you’re not going to succeed. To help here are some tips to help you with the process.
Prep your meals ahead of time.
A lot of your food can be cooked and prepped ahead of time. Sometimes you can even prep a whole weeks worth of some foods. For other foods, you can easily cook and refrigerate the night before. You will want to get a lunch box and microwave safe Tupperware. This way you can grab and go in the mornings before work.
Watch your portions when eating out.
don’t hesitate to order extra portions of meat and veggies and hold off on too much carbs. When getting salads order dressing on the side. To limit the amount of dressing you can dip your fork in instead of covering the whole salad.
Maintain a suitable workout routine
When eating to bulk, you need to maintain a suitable workout. I touch on this in How to Build Muscle. It’s important you’re focusing on big compound lifts. Additionally, you need to maintain a strict workout schedule and not jump from routine to routine. Write your workouts down and track your progress. Getting stronger will be a lot easier when you’ve dialed in the right diet.
When bulking, you will gain a little fat. Your pants will start getting tight and your abs may disappear but stick to your plan! Don’t be the guy that bounces back and forth. You will only be sabotaging your results. Stick to one plan of either bulking, maintaining, or slimming down.
With the knowledge above you have more than enough to get started on your clean bulk. Even so, you may still want some extra help. I offer coaching and guidance should you really want to knock your goals out of the park.
For more information have a look at my Personal Training Page.
I offer different packages and nutritional guidance to suit your goals and budget.
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